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Small Things: First Responders to Oil Spills

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Microbes are certainly being exposed to oil in the Gulf—both on the surface and at depth—and they are the first responders. Although many microbiologists naturally are interested in the identities of the oil degrading bacteria, this is of less relevance than the chemical changes the mixed microbial community of oil degraders brings about. Typically, as observed on the shorelines oiled by the Exxon Valdez spill, the microbial community goes from well under 1% hydrocarbon utilizers to about 10% in marine waters and sediments exposed to crude oil. The hydrocarbon degraders are diverse and include Vibrio and Pseudomonas species plus a number of other genera such as Alkinovorax which has previously been isolated from the Gulf of Mexico.

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